Hot air ballooning.  A Birds eye view of the garden of England 

More about me, personal posts

For my mums 60th birthday in 2015 I booked us on a hot air balloon. Unfortunately due to the weather the flight was postponed. So I rescheduled another flight. Postponed again. Unfortunately this happened approximately 10 times due to the deceiving weather and now it’s June 2016. My voucher was soon to expire and I’d almost given up hope. I’d received a text on Monday lunchtime there were 2 spaces remaining on that evenings flight, which was guaranteed to fly, so I thought it’s now or never. I called my mum, asked her if she was available, she said yes, I replied to the text and we were booked on. At 2 o clock I rang the flight confirmation line which gave me the launch pad details. There are 7 different Kent locations in total. I jotted the details, Mercure hotel in Maidstone to be there by 7pm.  
It was quite a mad rush getting home from work, saying hello and goodbye to the kids, quickly gobbling down a sandwich and getting changed. Then I had to collect my mum from the train station and head straight to the launch site, which was about a 30 minute drive from my house. 
We arrived at the hotel and saw a signpost for outdoor activities so we followed it round. I spotted the spitfire minibus and knew that’s where we were to meet.  
We handed over our vouchers, were ticked off the list and were given a safety card to read of dos and don’ts 

We headed over with the group of fellow flyers and watched as the crew prepared the balloon. We also got a safety brief from the pilot Michael.  

The balloon took longer to prepare than I imagined. I thought it would inflate quite quickly like a bouncy castle but no. It had to be filled with cold air from noisy petrol powered fans. Then topped up with hot air from the even noisier burners. This took a while, it’s great to see though. The balloon was so much bigger than expected. Once ready we were given our allocated spaces. The basket was divided into 5 compartments, 1 in the middle for the pilot and the remaining 4 for the passengers. There were 16 passengers in total. To get in and out of the basket there are square holes in the side, these are to be used as a ladder. I was the youngest person on the flight and didn’t find it that easy to climb in, but there was help at hand if needed. 

Once on board we practiced our landing position. Which was to sit down on the padded bench inside the compartment, shoulder to shoulder and hold onto the rope in front. We were ready to go. The burners flames were roaring, the ropes were untied and we were off, floating into the sky. It’s quite a strange feeling as there isn’t really any effect on the body. It didn’t make my tummy somersault, there was no G force. It was just a gentle rise into the air. If you shut your eyes you wouldn’t even know you were moving. There was no sensation at all. What surprised me was the speed at which we rose, and how everything looked so small so quickly. The view is like looking out from an airplane window. It’s like being a giant looking over a tiny lifelike train set.  

So many people ask wasn’t you scared. But the answer is no. I know it’s completely insane to be up so high in the sky and so vulnerable in just a basket and a balloon full of hot air but it never occurred to me that I wasn’t safe. The pilot talked us through the whole experience and he was such a funny and friendly man I guess everyone felt at ease. It didn’t appear that anyone was at all anxious. It’s so quiet, tranquil, serene and literally heavenly up in the sky you can’t help but feel at peace.  

You may or may not know that you can’t steer a hot air balloon. Only the height can be controlled. The wind steers the balloon in the direction it chooses. So whilst up in the air Michael was radioing the crew in the minibus of his predicted landing site. He was also getting them to do certain checks to know what sort of landing we were in for too.  

I think our flight lasted approximately an hour. One of my favourite moments was when we came down low to the fields to check the wind and then climbed back up again. We also brushed a tree top and some passengers were able to grab a leaf or two for a souvenir.  

Whilst up in the air Michael showed us a very impressive trick, he threw a piece of grass from the floor of the basket out into the sky………… rose up?!? The reason it went up and not down as anticipated was because we were descending faster in the balloon than the grass was falling to the ground.  

Kent ballooning have an arrangement with some Kentish farmers who have given permission for them to land in their fields, some in exchange for a bottle of champagne. Not a bad deal.  

We had traveled approximately 9 miles up in the sky and we could see the spitfire van waiting for us. We were expecting a good landing. We landed in a field of sheep, after Michael had cleverly rotated the basket to fit through a gap in the trees. Metres above the floor we took our landing positions. There was a small bump, nothing violent, and then we moved slightly along the ground as the balloon settled.  

We clambered out one by one alternate ends to keep the basket balanced. Getting out was equally hard, but all passengers were helping each other. Some of us hung onto the basket to keep it weighed down whilst the others exited the basket.  
Once everyone was out, the basket was put onto the 4×4 and the deflated balloon needed to be packed up. We all took part in packing it away. The balloon, I believe, is worth £40,000 and is sponsored by spitfire. The basket is worth another £20,000.  

We all helped to roll the air out while Michael rugby tackled the balloon and packed it into a narrow strip. We all then grabbed a part and helped lug it into the basket. It’s a lot lot heavier than expected.  
Once the balloon was packed up we toasted our successful flight with a glass of champagne, or spitfire. It’s actually tradition to do this as it was thought that travelling through the sky was alien back in the day so the pilot carried champagne to prove he was human.   

Once refreshed we got into the mini bus and travelled back to the launch site. Here we were presented with our certificates. I was very proud of my mum, as she’s not good with heights. I was proud that we’d actually managed to get up in the sky after almost a year of failed attempts. But it was worth it. Obviously this is an activity that is weather permitting because people’s safety is paramount. The weather is studied to know if it’s safe and to know where the best sites are to launch and land. 

This was an amazing experience and it’s something I think everyone should do in their lifetime. It’s a real bucket list thing to do and I’ve done it! I love the Kent countryside. It’s beautiful, it’s my home and it really is the garden of England and I’ve been lucky enough to get a birds eye view of it.  


My Step by step sponge cake mix 

More about me, personal posts

I enjoy baking and I’m fairly artistic so I decided to test my talent and make my first ever proper iced birthday cake. I watched a YouTube video for instructions on how to ice it so I’m good to go right? 
So a basic cake mix I always use is 

175g of self raising flour

175g of caster Sugar

175g of butter or baking margarine

3 eggs 

1tsp of baking powder

So, if I’m feeling lazy, I literally chuck ALL the ingredients in a bowl, whisk it and bake it. As I was making the cake for a special occasion I made more of an effort and did it the traditional way.

Firstly I creamed the butter and sugar

Beat the eggs

Then added the eggs to the mixture

I weighed out the flour and added 1tsp of baking powder, then sieved the flour into the mixture. Mix it up! 

At this stage I should have added vanilla essence ( but I forgot) now the mixture, or batter as some refer, is good to go in the oven.  

For the cupcakes put a heaped teaspoon into a muffin case and bake at around 180 (electric oven) for 12-15 minutes.

Once golden and springy to the touch they’re ready. Allow to cool and get creative! 

I used butter icing which I make with double the amount of icing sugar to butter. So I used a whole block of butter at 250g and a whole box of icing sugar at 500g no need to even weigh it!!! So cream this together, gently, as not to get clouds of sugar everywhere. To mine I added some strawberry food flavouring and pink food colouring.    

 Right so here’s a quick guide to icing cupcakes. For a flat ‘Rose’ effect pipe from the middle out around to the edge.

 To get height, pipe from the outside round into the middle. I used the biggest nozzle I had, a star shape with 8 prongs ( I’m sure there’s a more technical term than that).   

Once piped you can add any extras you wish. I used mini marshmallows and grated white chocolate. Literally grated on a cheese grater.  

Easy peasy hey?! You can do whatever combinations you fancy. Add cocoa to the cake mix and butter icing for chocolate cakes or fresh lemon juice and zest for lemon cakes.  

I had envisioned how I wanted the birthday cake to look. A pink and white layered cake. I used this standard cake mix and added a whole tube of food colouring gel to make the sponge pink.  

I chose gel as I have used the small bottles of food colouring before and the colour was too subtle. So I halved the mixture between two silicon baking trays and baked two layers pink and a further 2 layers I baked without any additional colour, again forgetting the vanilla essence! Silicon is great for baking as it peels straight off without the need to grease.  

So once I had all the layers ready and cooled ( they have to be cooled or the icing will just melt right off) I began to assemble.

I spread a bit of jam on the underneath of the bottom layer to glue it to the cake board. You can buy these in the baking isle at the supermarket. I spread butter icing on the top and jam onto the underneath of the layer I was placing on top. This process was repeated until I placed on the fourth layer alternating the colour of the sponges.  

Now at this stage to make it a nicer finish I probably should have cut the cakes edges off to straighten it up. I decided against this as I didn’t want to lose too much cake. So the cake was now assembled and I was ready to roll, the regal icing! 

I watched a video on you tube to get an idea of the technique. Looked easy! I rolled out the icing which got stuck to the surface as I attempted to scoop it up. It took a few attempts to get it onto the cake. Once on it naturally fell into place. I didn’t do a very good job rolling the icing, it didn’t quite fit. So I patched it up and tried to smooth it over. This really is tricky and is made to look so easy in the video but with practice, as with anything, I’m sure I’ll become better.

 I added some of the remaining drops of gel into some left over icing to make it pink, rolled it out and hand cut a 60. I made some little roses too just by cutting a semi circle and rolling into a cone shape.  

 So this is the finished cake. It doesn’t look to bad for a first attempt. My mum (the recipient) was really happy with it and said she liked the way it looked homemade. So although it didn’t come out exactly as expected it has given me confidence to try again in the future. So that’s my step by step guide to making a basic mix with endless possibilities. Have a go, it’s a piece of cake!